The reasons to diversify your investment portfolio and your lifestyle to include real estate overseas have never been more compelling than they are right now.
But, you may be thinking, who does this, really? Isn’t this a strategy of the jet-set?
No, it’s not.
I come from middle-class Baltimore, Lief from middle-class Phoenix. We started our overseas real estate adventures with next-to-nothing. Lief made his first property investment using a US$5,000 gift from a family member, and I worked for years to amass the US$50,000 that allowed me to participate in my first overseas property purchase.
I’ve been covering the live and invest overseas beat for more than three decades. In that time, I’ve met thousands of others, at conferences and in my travels, who, likewise, have built adventure-filled lives that include real estate holdings overseas, and I can’t think of one of them who I’d describe as jet-set.
These are all regular folks who represent all demographics.
Searching For The Right Haven
Friend Lee Harrison took early retirement at the age of 49 from a successful engineering career based in Manhattan and moved first to Ecuador, then to Uruguay, next to Brazil, then to Colombia, and, most recently, last year, to Mexico. In each case, Lee bought a home, and, in each case, he was rewarded. A significant part of Lee’s income over the past 15 years of his retirement has come from his serial home ownership in each of the countries where he’s been retired.
“I didn’t have enough of a pension or enough retirement savings to live on for the rest of my life in the States, certainly not living the level of lifestyle my wife and I had been enjoying in New York up until that point,” Lee explains.
“So I started looking around for options. My eyes were opened to the ‘retire overseas’ option by a book on retiring to Costa Rica that I happened upon in a bookstore one day.
“At that point in our lives, my wife Julie and I wanted a big change, an adventure. We craved culture shock, the bigger the better. So, while Costa Rica was the first country I considered as an overseas option, it wasn’t the one we chose for the start of our overseas adventures. Julie and I chose Ecuador, where we embraced a very different and almost unbelievably affordable lifestyle.
“We enjoyed Ecuador, but, once we’d made that first move, we couldn’t help but notice other options that also seemed very appealing. What could be better than Ecuador, we’d asked ourselves while enjoying our new life there, first in Cuenca, then in Vilcabamba. Then we discovered that, well, other places might just be better in some ways…
“So, from Ecuador, we moved to Uruguay, where we divided our time between Montevideo and Punta del Este, on the coast. What could be better than that life, split between a pleasant city and one of the world’s most beautiful stretches of coastline?
“Eventually, though, we decided that, for us, easy access to the United States was a priority. When we started having grandchildren, we wanted to be able to visit regularly. We turned our attention to the most easily accessible country from the U.S.—Mexico. We think we’re settled here now indefinitely… but who knows. We’ve learned to keep our options and our minds open.”
“A Future That Made More Sense To Us”
Another friend Coley made his first overseas real estate purchase at the age of 35. Coley and his wife Allison weren’t worried about money, making ends meet, or how they’d pay for retirement. Coley was making a great living, the young couple and their two small children were enjoying a fully appointed life in Washington, D.C., and retirement was decades away.
Looking ahead, their lives seemed to promise lots more of the same—more earnings and an even more comfortable lifestyle as they continued to work hard and make their way up the D.C. ladder. They had achieved, at early ages, the life that many Americans dream about.
Only it wasn’t working for them. From their position in the U.S. capital, they had an insider’s view of what was going on and, from their perspective, what was going wrong. This was seven years ago, and, after a lot of research and months of soul-searching, Coley and his wife, in their mid-30s, scooped up their two little ones and opted out.
“We wanted to get out while we were still young enough to remake our lives and our children’s futures in a way that made more sense to us.”
Coley and his young family hopped a flight from the American capital to the Panamanian one, where, months before, they’d purchased a house on the beach. They had to pull the trigger on their plan, because their house back in the States had sold. Yet, they discovered, their new home on the coast outside Panama City wasn’t finished yet. Arriving in Panama, the little family checked into the Intercontinental Hotel.
“We were at the Intercontinental for weeks,” Coley explains. “I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. What was I doing? We were living in a hotel in a Third World city with two toddlers, for crying out loud. Burning through our savings. No one could promise when our house would be ready for us to move in. I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.”
Today, seven years later, Coley is confident that moving his family to Panama was the smartest thing he could have done at the time and that, if he hadn’t done it then, he’d do it today for sure. “I look at what’s going on back in the States,” he says, “and I know we made the right choice. I see very bad times ahead for my country. I think my family and I can do better for ourselves in this life we’re creating for ourselves.”
Since they took their leap of faith, Coley and his wife have welcomed a new member into their family (their third child was born in Panama City), they’ve started businesses, including a school in the area where they’re living because no international school existed anywhere nearby and, as Coley explains, “we got tired of homeschooling the kids,” and now they’re preparing to launch a sustainable community, to create a place where like-minded folks can work together to build the lives and futures they want.
“I’m back in the States regularly,” Coley explains. “I travel to D.C. every month to work with my consulting clients. When we meet, all they want to talk about is my life here in Panama. ‘What’s Panama really like?’… ‘Do you have any regrets?’ they want to know.
“‘Man, I wish I could do it,’ they say. ‘Boy, Coley, you’ve figured this out. Do you think I could do it, too?’
“There’s so much unhappiness and uncertainty in the United States right now, especially in D.C. I think people in that part of the country are at the epicenter of a growing recognition that things are out of control.
“What I realized years ago was that nobody was going to get things back under control anytime soon. Our only choice, each of us, is to take control of our own lives. I say this to friends and clients back in D.C. today, and they agree. They see this truth as well as I do. But they’re scared, intimidated. I understand. I was scared, too, when the realization first set in for me.”
The idea of diversifying your investments, your assets, your life, and your future overseas can seem frightening, intimidating, even paralyzing. Could you really do it?
Yes, you could.
I say that based on 30 years of experience at this. Lee and Julie, Coley and Allison, Lief and I, we’re all just regular folks, like you.
If we could do it, so can you. And the upsides are enormous.